Reuters confirms the buzz inside the GOP that former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is seriously considering a presidential run. “[P]eople close to him say that now more than ever, there are signs he might look past several potential hurdles — including polls that suggest Americans are not exactly enthralled with the idea of another President Bush — and seriously consider stepping into the fray.” Unlike in 2012, “he ‘has not given anyone the wave-off at this point’ for 2016, said a Washington-based Republican strategist familiar with Bush’s discussions about the presidency. To the contrary, this strategist said, Bush has in place an ‘inner circle’ of fewer than a dozen people who are in regular contact with him weighing the pros and cons of running. They are at the beginning of a very serious conversation.”
From outside the inner Bush circle, it is hard to know how serious all this is. In 2012, plenty of household names in the GOP (Haley Barbour, Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie, John Thune, etc.) gave serious consideration to a presidential race but opted not to run. There is, however, arguably a stronger rationale for Jeb Bush to run in 2016 than there was for a number of GOP candidates who didn’t have much of an agenda, had no obvious niche to fill or simply didn’t have a following in 2012.
The most compelling argument for Jeb Bush goes like this: The country and his party need him. Eight years of President Obama will leave us internationally weakened, politically gridlocked, economically listless and stewing in partisan juices. From the Republicans’ perspective, four more years of Democratic rule, especially from Hillary Clinton, whose fingerprints are all over Obamacare and a series of foreign policy debacles, would push the country to a breaking point. Moreover, both to beat Hillary Clinton and to clean up the mess, the party and country need a grown up, a proven performer and a qualified chief executive. Choosing an ideologically extreme and/or under-qualified senator or an untested and unknown governor is fraught with peril. So, therefore, Jeb Bush becomes the most logical choice.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who obviously has experience as a chief executive and has bipartisan appeal, would be reassuring to mainstream Republicans. But the bridge scandal froze supporters. Sen Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) remains back in the field in most polls and, more important, seems never to have regained his bearings after the immigration fight and his participation in the disastrous shutdown squad.
To a greater degree than many expected at this stage in the pre-race jockeying, the field has opened up a bit, and Jeb Bush seems the most probable horse in the race to capitalize on the opening. This isn’t to say Rubio, Christie and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis,.) won’t run or wouldn’t be able to run a credible race, but none of them seems quite as formidable as they did at one point.
Events have also conspired to make Jeb Bush’s candidacy much more plausible. Sure he has been pro-immigration (to the consternation of the right wing), but as things would turn out, his support for a legalization system short of citizenship may be the sober, conservative ground in the GOP. As foreign events take center stage, the prospect of either an isolationist candidate, an inexperienced one or a blowhard becomes more problematic. Jeb Bush may have the shortest and smoothest learning curve on national security of any of the candidates.
Finally, the dynasty issue isn’t eliminated, but it sure is reduced with Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee. Who’s she to complain about familial ties to the White House?
Therefore, if Jeb Bush wants to run, multiple factors work in his favor. But first he’s going to have to want to — and that is far from clear, maybe even to himself.